Wednesday, October 16, 2013

In Montana, it rains sheep and cougars

Scenes of intense predatory action are commonplace in nature documentaries. The poise, grace, and stealth of apex predators is unparalleled, and we are all captivated by such incredible feats of athleticism in the natural world.

Well, even top predators manage to botch things once in a while.

In Glacier National Park, a photographer (anyone know who?) spotted two bodies lying on a closed road. Not human bodies, thankfully, but the bodies of a predator and its prey that both met their demise in the heat of pursuit. The bodies were of a Dall sheep Ovis dalli and a cougar (mountain lion, puma, panther, what-have-you) Puma concolor. 

Lying at the bottom of a sheer cliff, the bodies not only tell of an incredible and clearly lethal fall, but of just how hard the two animals fell. The sheath of the sheep's horn came clean off upon impact (seen above, left), and its hind right leg had a severe compound fracture.

Interestingly enough, it doesn't seem like the cat was too far off from getting a nice mutton meal before the two met their untimely departure: the cougar died with a tuft of the sheep's fur in its mouth!

In the wild, slight miscalculations of distance or steepness, bad weather, and plain old bad timing can lead to terrible consequences. No animal is perfect at what it does. There is no species which kills 100% of the prey it intends to, and many risk death in the pursuit of one meal. And this doesn't just apply to today's animals; we have many instances of accidental death in the fossil record as well. Perhaps, if the conditions were right, the sheep and the cougar would form a fossil just like this...

For more photos of this scene, click here. Some of the photos are pretty gruesome, so proceed at your own discretion.

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